I want to be emphatic when I say this: I have never been a fan of online training. This form of training has been knocking at my door for years, and I’ve done a magnificent job of hiding under my sheets – hoping the knocking would stop! I have been bred to present information in a certain way, and I wish the intruder would stop knocking at my door and just go away. However, if I’m going to be a thought leader on training, I need to learn about new forms of training, and point out the strengths and weaknesses of each innovation that comes along.
The Weaknesses of Online Training
One of the most fundamental challenges of online training has to do with one of the most important principles of any actual presentation, training event, or performance. Online training has, and always will, struggle to inspire those who watch it. To truly reach into someone’s heart and make a lasting impression, you have to do more than just dispense information.
Even if you can put on the presentation of your life online, I will always believe that the more the audience interacts with the trainer and/or each other, the more they enjoy the presenter. By nature, online presenting just doesn’t allow for significant interaction. I live to engage audiences. I like to watch them tackle various problems in small groups exercises. I like to watch them work through case studies, engage in role-plays, navigate their way through simulations, and interact with each other.
When I have conducted online training, I can’t tell you how many times, after I’ve asked a simple question, I’ve had to wait over 20 seconds for even the first response. Want to know why it takes 20 seconds? Every participant has muted his or her microphone to mask the noise of the breakfasts being cooked, and other household tasks that are being done during the presentation. I even had someone proudly tell me this: “I loved your session. I was able to clean my entire house while you were speaking!”
When I am doing training “in person,” something else is happening that can’t be captured online. I like and appreciate the interaction that takes place between participants when the training is not being conducted. I’m referring to the conversations with the presenter during breaks, the conversations with each other during breaks, the dinners that allow for a type of bonding that can never be achieved in an online format.
Grrrrrr. Okay, I needed to vent and, in full disclosure, let you know that I will always prefer a live training event to a program delivered online. But that doesn’t mean we can’t embrace what is here, because online delivery has some impressive strengths, and it’s only going to continue to evolve.
The Strengths of Online Training
One of the first, and most obvious, strengths of online training centers around the bottom dollar. Budgets are tight, particularly in the training world, and conducting an online presentation can save a staggering amount of money. The costs of taxi fares, airfares, meals, hotel expense and more, are eliminated.
Online training also offers the presenter the benefit of time saved. Almost all professional speakers will fly in the day before the actual training event is to begin. That means some significant down time away from the office. Oh sure, many of us have established routines that allow us to maximize productivity, and sneak in work when we travel. The fact still remains, however, that even for a one-hour keynote presentation, the presenter has two days on the road. Online training eliminates the need for travel.
Although I have fought my own online demons, I have embraced online delivery for certain uses for quite some time. Follow up training is a natural for online delivery. It’s the live delivery that creates a condition for change by inspiring those who attend. It can be an online follow-up that helps sustain it. The follow-up type of training doesn’t require the level of change that the initial training does. The initial training has to motivate and inspire the participants to embrace a new way of thinking, and it’s very difficult to do that online.
Another positive of online training is that it can be ideal for those who are struggling with the initial training. Due to fiscal concerns, most companies will not pay to have struggling trainees go through initial training twice. Online deliveries create a much more affordable opportunity to help those who are struggling.
Online training has its weaknesses but it isn’t going anywhere for a number of good reasons. Although I’ve resisted the idea of online training, if it helps my clients, I’m willing to open the door and see who’s knocking. It may very well be opportunity knocking and the direction a lot of our training is going.